Journalist González is freed after 16 months in jail

New York, November 21, 2006 – The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of Cuban journalist Oscar Mario González, who had been jailed for 16 months without charge. González was freed unexpectedly on Monday without explanation, his daughter Elena González, who lives in Sweden, told CPJ.

She said her father was in good spirits but confused. She spoke with him by telephone shortly after his release. González told her the first six months in jail had been the hardest, and that he had lost hope he would be freed soon. CPJ tried to contact González at his home in Havana but was unable to reach him. His health had deteriorated in prison, his wife, Mirta Wong, said earlier this year.

“We are relieved that Oscar Mario González has been freed,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We now urge Cuba to release the other 24 journalists it keeps behind bars on spurious antistate charges.”

Cuba is second only to China as a jailer of journalists. All but two of the 24 journalists in prison were detained in a March 2003 crackdown on the independent press. Their prison sentences range from 14 to 27 years.

González, a journalist with the independent news agency Grupo de Trabajo Decoro, was arrested July 22, 2005 near his home in Havana. His detention came amid a police crackdown the same month, when opposition activists planned to hold an antigovernment protest outside the French embassy in Havana. Several leaders of the group, the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba (APSC), were detained.

Fellow journalists in Havana linked the arrest of González to his coverage in May 2005 of an unprecedented two-day congress organized by APSC, which brought together 200 activists.

González, 62, suffered from chronic respiratory problems, chronic gastritis, and a urinary tract infection without receiving adequate medical treatment, Wong said. He was held in seven detention centers, most of which lacked proper ventilation, light, and sanitary conditions, Wong said. In January 2006, González was taken to Havana Prison 1580, where he was held until his release.

Wong told CPJ in April that González had not been examined by a doctor or received any medication since January. She said she had been forbidden from taking him medicine. Prison officials said González could not be treated until they received a file containing his judicial and medical history. Authorities told Wong the file had been misplaced.

In July, authorities told González’s lawyer that he would be charged with causing public disorder. The maximum penalty for public disorder is one year in prison, a term González had already exceeded. On July 10, Wong said, González’s lawyer requested his release from prison. Authorities rejected the petition in September, according to news reports.